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“Now we are going to put contour makeup on to make it look like a beard,” drag king Justin Bond says to me, as they take me through the first delicate steps of putting together a look.
Justin’s appearance sounds fairly typical of a drag performer. Today, for instance, they are sporting bright purple dyed hair and a studded choker.
But this artist has an important difference. Bond is one of 14 artists who performs with Drag Syndrome, a collective of drag kings and queens with Down’s Syndrome.
Since their debut in March 2018, Drag Syndrome have been featured in Vogue, Dazed and Confused and on the BBC. They now boast almost 30,000 followers on Instagram, are premium performers in the LGBTQ+ scene, and were invited to perform at Ru Paul’s Drag Con earlier this year.
The Drag Syndrome website describes Justin, their stage name, as a ‘multi-talented, handsome King’.
The artist often performs wearing a painted beard, accentuated heavy brows and a black wig. “It’s the best thing and part of my whole life really being part of drag syndrome,” Justin says. “I’m a superstar drag king that everyone loves.”
Nikita Gold, another performer in the troupe tells me about the colour of nail paint they are choosing.
“Pink, it’s very sparkly so we’ll have a bit of a go of that”, they say as their mother Pip paints their fingernails.
“I love myself. I love dancing, but mainly I love performing in drag and being a persona in the world.
“Mainly because I have makeup on, hair, wigs on, costume on, the full works.”
Nikita’s social media presence performing in bright wigs, heavy makeup and gowns is second only to her beverage-making abilities.
In an Instagram post titled Gin & Quarantine With Nikita Gold, the artist makes a gin & tonic – it has nearly 10,000 views.
The group’s popularity has also seen them tour Europe and Canada, as well the UK. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Drag Syndrome were scheduled to perform in Michigan, US as part of the ArtPrize competition. But after complaints were made, 2020 congressional candidate Peter Meijer declined to host them at his venue, stating he believed the artists couldn’t give “informed consent“.
In response The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a complaint to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
Justin is keen to point out the positive when I ask about discouraging responses like this to an openly queer and disabled troupe of performers.
“Where people do accept me and love me and I’ve got a lot of fans, well basically (it’s) a good way of communicating with your fans.
“But with the negative it’s not good because I don’t like being not respected for who I am.”
The Meijer blip seems to be only a minor hiccup on the road to success for Drag Syndrome they have now been featured in three books: 50 Drag Queens Who Changed The World, Contemporary Drag Practice And Performance and Legendary Children.
And in a Whatsapp message, with the prayer hands emoji, creative director Daniel Vais tells me “they are planning a world tour for 2021”.